"An Unlikely Prescription”Brittany Stillwell Krebs 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c Year C – Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost - (Proper 23)
The headline read, “Doctor’s Orders: 20 Minutes of Meditation Twice a Day.” This Wall Street Journal article began, “At Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, doctor’s orders can include an unlikely prescription: meditation”
In this article, meditation is said to assist with anything from insomnia to irritable bowl syndrome. It is said to help lower blood pressure and to improve cognitive abilities such as attention and memory. More and more doctors are prescribing meditation as a treatment for illness and as a preventative measure against future health complications.
In the age of prescription drugs, not every patient immediately buys into this treatment plan, however. The article interviews 51-year-old Martha O’Boyle who suffers from chronic pain following a heart attack. The article quotes Ms. O’Boyle: “Here’s a cardiologist telling me to go and meditate. I’m thinking, does she think I’m crazy?” Though the prescription sounded exotic and crazy, Ms. O’Boyle signed up for meditation classes at the hospital. She now meditates for 20-45 minutes a day and while the pain is not gone completely, she is better prepared to cope with it.
I bet the great commander of the Aramean army had similar thoughts when he was prescribed an unlikely prescription. Naaman was a mighty warrior and a great man who had just experienced victory, a victory given by the Lord. There was just one problem; Naaman suffered from leprosy, a disease that put him on the outside despite his great reputation and success. This hero needed a cure in order to be restored to greatness in his country and the doctor recommendation came from an unlikely source.
“Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, ‘If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy'” (2 Kings 5:2-3, NRSV)
This young girl is an unlikely source for two reasons. First, she is bounty taken from a raid. She is a slave forced to work in Naaman’s house, just one of his many prizes. Why should, why would a great army commander listen to this young girl? What does she know that he doesn’t? She is only a girl and a slave at that!
But second, and the reason that stuns me the most, she was taken captive by this man; why would she want to help him? I’m not sure I would be so generous. I might have just kept my mouth shut and justified my actions by insisting that it would be improper to offer suggestions to one with such a high status. But despite all that, this young girl became an unlikely mouthpiece for God and Naaman found himself and his entourage on the way to Israel in search of healing.
Unfortunately, Naaman did not listen carefully to the young girl’s recommendation. She spoke of a prophet in Samaria but Naaman found it highly unlikely that some unknown prophet would have the cure. A more likely solution would be found with the king. So Naaman arrives in all his pomp and circumstance with a letter for the king, a letter that leaves the king of Israel shaking in his boots.
The King of Israel knows about Naaman; he has experienced the wrath of this mighty commander who has raided his country taking whatever he pleased. He also knows that even though helping this man might bring peace to his country, healing leprosy is completely out of his power. And so he panics. But word travels fast in Israel and Elisha hears of the king’s panic attack. He sends a message to the king, “Calm down, let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel” (2 Kings 5:8, NRSV). So Naaman, with his processional of horses, chariots and I’m sure a few doubts, pays a visit to Elisha.
Elisha takes one look at the parade coming down his driveway and makes his diagnosis. He knows what Naaman needs but he also knows he isn’t going to like it. He sends a messenger to meet him halfway down the drive, “Go wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean” (2 Kings 5:10).
Naaman doesn’t like this prescription one bit! He is an important man with the power to destroy Israel and all this man does is to send him a note?! And those are the stupidest instructions he’s ever seen! “Wash in the Jordan, seven times. Why would I want to wash in the Jordan? That will never work! And if it’s a good bath I need why couldn’t I have done it back home? Our rivers are clearly better than all the water in Israel! If it was a bath I needed why didn’t that little girl say so! I could have avoided this entire journey and be celebrating my victories by now!”
In the midst of his rage, another unlikely source comes to his aid, this time in the form of his servants. Again, I wonder how these servants mustered up the courage to offer direction to their master and again I wonder why Naaman listened; but they spoke and he listened and because he heeded these unlikely voices, “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean” (2 Kings 5:14).
I think Naaman’s restoration began way before he actually dipped himself into the Jordan. I think perhaps it began when he dared to listen to God speaking through unlikely voices. You see his journey to healing, his journey to wholeness started when he followed a word from the Lord in the voice of a scared, captive young girl who dared to speak truth. And though he was hardheaded, taking unnecessary turns because of the assumptions and expectations ingrained within him; he eventually found his way, led by the voice of God hidden in unlikely instruments.
The answer to his healing wasn’t simply, “lather, rinse, repeat and repeat and repeat!” It was a journey of releasing control and acknowledging the one who holds all things. Naaman’s prescription was one that required him to get down off his high horse, set aside all that he had acquired to make his life great, and acknowledge that all that he has and all that he is comes from God.
The finishing touches to this moment of restoration came when Naaman made his way back to Elisha, this time getting off his horse to speak face to face with this strange and unlikely man of God. Like the leper who departed from the nine to come back and speak face to face with the strange and unlikely Son of God (Luke 17:11-19), Naaman professes his faith and gives thanks saying, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel” (2 Kings 5:15).
Just a few months ago my life was changing quickly all around me. I had succeeded in completing my seminary education and was about to graduate. I was also about to move to a new city and a new state with none of my previous comforts of home: no job, no friends, and no school. I had listened in my seminary classes when professors urged us to seek counseling and spiritual direction when our ministries got tough. I was still a baby in ministry but things were already getting tough so I decided to heed their advice and made an appointment with one of my counselor-professors.
I was sharing the many changes and “what ifs” that were surrounding my life when he asked me, “You have no control over the situation and you don’t like that do you?” (Not only was he observant but he had had me in several classes and knew my type-A tendencies all too well). “No, no I don’t.” I admitted. “Can you give me some homework while I wait?” I expected him to laugh at my joke and remind me that there was no homework that could fix my uncertainty, when he gave me an unlikely prescription.
“Sure,” he said, “spend twenty minutes in silence every day. You’ll probably have to work your way up to it, but start with five and keep at it until you can sit still and, for twenty minutes of your day, relinquish any need to control or obsess over a life that is not yours to manipulate.” I must admit, much like Martha O’Boyle, I thought this prescription was crazy, not because I didn’t think it would work; but because I doubted my ability to be still when everything around me was spinning.
But do you know what happened in those 5, then 10, then 20 minutes of silence? I began to come down off my high horse, to set aside all the accomplishments on my resume, the ideas and knowledge I had learned in seminary, and expectations I had for the future, and acknowledge that all I had and all that I was came from God. The waiting and the uncertainty were still there, but I was becoming better prepared each day to cope with it.
There is only one thing that is certain and that is that life is uncertain. We may experience victory one minute and defeat the next. We might spend our lives acquiring things that we are sure will make us better and then in a flash find it all destroyed by illness or loss. We all need restoration and healing, on our best days and on our worst days.
We need to be made whole again and we are on a journey toward restoration.
It is a process that requires us to be open to unlikely sources of truth because healing often comes in the most unlikely of places.
It comes in the humility of defeat and in the vulnerability that comes when you journey to a foreign place.
It comes in the voices of friends and of strangers, from those you consider beneath you and from those who seem to be way out of your league.
It comes in ordinary practices of faith: bread and wine, water, music, scripture, and prayer.
It comes when you are desperately searching for answers and when you least expect it.
Often it is a trip through unfamiliar territory that alerts us to God’s presence in the ordinary. It is when we are surrounded by the unknown that we are most vulnerable; when we can’t be in control and everything is foreign making us more alert to the activity of God (Walter Brueggemann’s commentary, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Kings. Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2000, p. 332).
We tend to struggle to receive God’s grace when it comes in simple, unimpressive ways; but we cannot control how salvation happens and that is a good thing! Theologian Kimberly M. Van Driel writes, “The good news is that the real God heals when, where, and through the means that God chooses. We can be thankful that we cannot control it. If we did, our egos, not God, would be sovereign” (Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 4. Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).
I was sitting at a table on a patio near a park when a lady stopped me to ask a favor. “My daughter is going to come here looking for me,” she said, “but it is hot and I’m going to go sit in the car where there is air conditioning. If you see her, could you tell her where I am?” I agreed, she described her daughter’s outfit and set off to the car.
Several minutes later the daughter wandered over obviously looking for her mom. I walked over to her and tried to get her attention. She was a little taken aback by this stranger coming to her and at first tried not to acknowledge me. I finally got her attention, asked her if she was looking for her mom, and pointed her in the right direction. “Ooo, that’s weird! Thank you,” she replied as she headed toward her mom. She didn’t expect to find her mom through a complete stranger and I couldn’t help but chuckle at her honest commentary. It was weird. She came expecting to find her mom and instead found an unlikely messenger.
Sometimes we are propelled along the journey in easily recognizable ways, sometimes we find exactly what we were expecting, just in a different location, and sometimes we find our next steps in unlikely places.
Sometimes our healing comes in ways that we would expect; through scripture, prayer, or the word of God voiced by someone we trust.
Sometimes we find renewal in a location we never expected, when we step outside our comfort zone and try something new—a new church, a new hobby, a new friend.
And sometimes our restoration comes in such a weird package that we want to keep walking and pretend we didn’t hear or see. Our response to the vehicle of healing might cause us to exclaim, “Ooo, that’s weird!” and we may need someone to urge us to trust the strange.
Are we prepared to experience the healing we so desperately need regardless of its packaging? Can we afford to be picky about when and how restoration comes?
What if restoration comes to you through the voice of an unlikely messenger?
What if restoration comes when you find yourself in a foreign place?
What if restoration comes in the midst of disappointment or failure?
What if restoration comes in excitement and success?
What if restoration comes through ordinary practices of faith?
What if restoration comes when you remember to say thank you?
What if restoration comes while you wait?
Naaman found himself on an unexpected journey, a journey that caused him to broaden his vision and ask the question “what if” with frequency. But his trip did not end in the Jordan; he still had a journey of restoration ahead of him. If we continue reading past verse 15 we find that Naaman was concerned about how he would stay faithful when his job would require him to go with his master to worship the god, Rimmon. How was he going to remain faithful in a land that did not recognize the One True God? How was he going to find the voice of God in a land that used to be familiar but now seems so foreign? When he expresses this fear to Elisha, he is not given explicit answers but instead is launched deeper into the journey of faith with Elisha’s words of blessing, “Go in peace” (2 Kings 5:19).
Are you ready for the journey? Take the unlikely prescription.
Slow down long enough to remember who it is that keeps you among the living (Psalm. 66:9).
Slow down long enough to acknowledge the one who has not let your feet slip (Psalm. 66:9).
Slow down long enough to trust in the one who journeys with us down to foreign lands and brings us up to a spacious place (Ps. 66:12).
Allow yourself to be open to God at work in unlikely places and go in peace. Amen.
About the writer: Brittany Stillwell Krebs and her husband Kyle just recently moved to Greenville, SC. Previously, she served as the Music Minister at Buechel Park Baptist Church. Brittany graduated from Baptist Seminary of Kentucky in 2013 with a Master of Divinity degree and from Samford University in 2008 with a Bachelor of Music Education degree with an Honor in Vocal Performance. Brittany enjoys music, reading, cuddling with her cat, Larkin, watching baseball, and spending time with her family.
Scripture and Music:
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven
In the Cross of Christ I Glory
Lord, Speak to Me That I May Speak
Lift Every Voice and Sing
Easter People, Raise Your Voices
Our God Is An Awesome God
Sing Unto God (G.F. Handel)
The Heavens Are Declaring (F.J. Haydn)
With A Voice of Singing (Martin Shaw)
Ah! Holy Jesus (Johann Cruger)
Give Thanks (Joseph Martin)
I Want to Thank You, Lord (Moses Hogan)
Recollection of Joy (Donna Butler)
My Tribute (Andre Crouch)
Something Beautiful (Gaither)
Recollection of Joy (Donna Butler)